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The Noble Savage
TO come to the point at once, I beg to say that I have not the least belief in the Noble
Savage. I consider him a prodigious nuisance, and an enormous superstition. His
calling rum fire- water, and me a pale face, wholly fail to reconcile me to him. I don't
care what he calls me. I call him a savage, and I call a savage a something highly
desirable to be civilised off the face of the earth. I think a mere gent (which I take to be
the lowest form of civilisation) better than a howling, whistling, clucking, stamping,
jumping, tearing savage. It is all one to me, whether he sticks a fish-bone through his
visage, or bits of trees through the lobes of his ears, or bird's feathers in his head;
whether he flattens his hair between two boards, or spreads his nose over the breadth
of his face, or drags his lower lip down by great weights, or blackens his teeth, or
knocks them out, or paints one cheek red and the other blue, or tattoos himself, or oils
himself, or rubs his body with fat, or crimps it with knives. Yielding to whichsoever of
these agreeable eccentricities, he is a savage - cruel, false, thievish, murderous;
addicted more or less to grease, entrails, and beastly customs; a wild animal with the
questionable gift of boasting; a conceited, tiresome, bloodthirsty, monotonous humbug.
Yet it is extraordinary to observe how some people will talk about him, as they talk
about the good old times; how they will regret his disappearance, in the course of this
world's development, from such and such lands where his absence is a blessed relief
and an indispensable preparation for the sowing of the very first seeds of any influence
that can exalt humanity; how, even with the evidence of himself before them, they will
either be determined to believe, or will suffer themselves to be persuaded into believing,
that he is something which their five senses tell them he is not.
There was Mr. Catlin, some few years ago, with his Ojibbeway Indians. Mr. Catlin was
an energetic, earnest man, who had lived among more tribes of Indians than I need
reckon up here, and who had written a picturesque and glowing book about them. With
his party of Indians squatting and spitting on the table before him, or dancing their
miserable jigs after their own dreary manner, he called, in all good faith, upon his
civilised audience to take notice of their symmetry and grace, their perfect limbs, and
the exquisite expression of their pantomime; and his civilised audience, in all good faith,
complied and admired. Whereas, as mere animals, they were wretched creatures, very
low in the scale and very poorly formed; and as men and women possessing any power
of truthful dramatic expression by means of action, they were no better than the chorus
at an Italian Opera in England - and would have been worse if such a thing were